Shortly after President Barack Obama took office five years ago, he passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act  (ARRA), also known as economic stimulus. Over the years, it provided "much needed fiscal stimulus to the American economy at a time of great instability," said Illinois CIO Sean Vinck in 2011, nearly three years after the stimulus was passed.

Without the investments in infrastructure, education, economic development and health care that ARRA provided, he said, the economic crisis of the last several years would have been worse in the U.S. "Like all ambitious projects," he added, "we will no doubt find ways that we could have done some things better."

But on Monday, Feb. 17, the White House released a report, The Economic Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Five Years Later, lauding the Recovery Act -- and all it has done for transportation, technology and innovation in government.

According to the report, the act helped increase access to broadband and drive its adoption nationwide, both through grants and through tax incentives. ARRA provided $4.4 billion through the Department of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration to deploy broadband infrastructure (such as laying new fiber-optic cables or upgrading wireless towers) and support public computer centers.

It also has help to add or improve more than 110,000 miles of broadband infrastructure, making high-speed connections available to about 20,000 community institutions, and it helped to spread the diffusion of broadband throughout the nation. It also provided $2.5 billion to expand broadband access in rural areas.

Thanks to ARRA funding, the Maryland Department of Information Technology, under the leadership of Gov. [Martin] O’Malley in 2011, a team of federal, state and local elected officials, and voluminous support from a plethora of vested parties, secured a $115 million Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant, supplemented by a $43 million match from the state and local jurisdictions, which allowed for "the construction of approximately 1,300 miles of fiber-optic cabling that will span all Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City, covering 9,800 square miles inclusive of urban, suburban and rural communities," said then-CIO Elliot Schlanger.

Called OneMaryland, the project was complete and officially ended on Aug. 31, 2013, according to the Maryland Department of Information Technology.

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And when it comes to innovation, the Recovery Act "made a significant impact, complementing the other measures the Obama Administration has taken to encourage innovation," according to the report. More specifically, more than $100 billion, including some tax incentives, were explicitly targeted at innovation in human capital, clean energy, health IT, roads and the skills of U.S. workers.

ARRA also initiated the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, "which allowed the Department of Transportation to invest in critical projects that were difficult to fund through traditional means," the report stated. "The TIGER program included a competitive process that encouraged innovation and regional collaboration."

It was considered successful enough to extend five additional times, and is in effect through September 2014.

Other report highlights include that the stimulus:

  • initiated more than 15,000 transportation projects that will improve nearly 42,000 miles of road, and mend or replace more than 2,700 bridges; 
  • made the "largest-ever" investments in American high-speed rail, constructing or improving approximately 6,000 miles of high-performance passenger rail corridors and procuring 120 next-gen rail cars or locomotives;
  • provided the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) with initial funding of $400 million to begin researching such energy technologies as second-generation biofuels, more efficient batteries, superconducting wires, and natural gas vehicles; and
  • provided incentives for doctor's offices to adopt health IT, the use of which has increased from 17 percent to 40 percent of doctor’s offices and from 9 percent to 44 percent of hospitals between 2008 and 2012.